October 22, 2012

Tape Review: Two determining FSU drives

Statistically speaking, it's hard to find much negative at all with what Florida State did in its 33-20 win over Miami Saturday night. The 'Noles had a dramatic advantage in the total yards category with offensive balance and a lights-out defensive effort against the Hurricane ground game. But because of some early situational gaffes, this rivalry matchup was tense into the fourth quarter. This week, let's focus on two key offensive drives that determined the game.

FSU offense

Florida State ties the game at 10

3rd-and-8: Manuel scrambles for 1st down

The drive that put the Seminoles on the board and made the score 10-3 Miami served to calm down the Florida State bench. But it was the 10-play, 90-yard effort that truly leveled out the momentum of the game. The 'Noles called six runs against four passes in this second-quarter drive, with one broken play run being the biggest difference.

Notice how on this third-down play, James Wilder Jr. (on the right) and the offensive line provide massive throwing lanes for Manuel to see through. The Hurricanes are also playing a soft zone, dropped back at or beyond the first down line. From here, the decision is a no-brainer for Manuel to make a break for the first down with his legs. Credit the senior with a tough run to achieve the first down in a critical situation. Manuel needed eight, and that's exactly how many yards he picked up on the scramble.

Wilder's 17-yard touchdown

On a second-and-three from the Hurricane 17-yard line, Florida State did more than just pick up the first down. Thanks to a surge from the line and two key skill position blocks, Wilder had a chance to score the tying touchdown. The sophomore broke free for extra yardage a few yards beyond the trench, but notice how tight end Nick O'Leary and fullback Lonnie Pryor again set up a corridor for Wilder to burst through for a first down. Thanks to a massive push from the offensive line, Wilder had a chance to finish the job to reach the end zone. Pure execution here makes the game a PAT away from 10-10 in the second quarter.

It is worth noting that the swing pass to Chris Thompson - the play that ultimately had the senior go down with an injury - is also a true catalyst for the drive. However the two plays listed above are the critical cogs in the Seminole score.

Florida State goes ahead by two scores

There's no question that next to the game-tying drive, the most important moment of the night was when Florida State finally achieved a two-score advantage in the fourth quarter. Although every other metric pointed to the Seminoles being up by a significant margin, there the game sat at 16-13 late in the third quarter. FSU made one decisive push with a seven-play, 74-yard drive that concluded with a score early in the final frame.

Goal to go

Admittedly, because of the systematic nature of this scoring drive (FSU never faced third down), there is not one play that stands out head and shoulders over the others. So for a team that's had some issues punching it in for six in the red-zone, let's look at first-and-goal that put the 'Noles inside the Miami five-yard line and the scoring play on second-and-goal.

Florida State had success with the option just two plays earlier on this drive, and called it again to the wide side of the field (Manuel's left) on first down. The interesting development on this play is that Miami actually plays it perfectly, until the key moment of execution. Manuel is strung out and forced to pitch the ball, but then in a stroke of part fortune and part athleticism, Devonta Freeman receives the ball and collides with Pryor a step later. This forces Freeman to cut it back up the middle of the field, which inexplicably catches the Hurricane linebacker with his hips and momentum not in a square position. The overpursuit pulls the linebacker toward the far sideline, and Freeman bounces a previously well-defended play to the four-yard line.

One play later, Florida State finishes the job. We talked prior to the rivalry game about Miami's propensity to pull its left guard for a numbers advantage. Now in this scoring play, it's the Seminoles who pull their left guard Josue Matias to his right in order to give FSU a numbers advantage. The combination of Matias, Pryor (again) and the Seminole offensive line allows Freeman to hit the hole with burst. Freemans forward momentum allows for the sophomore to find his way into the end zone after being whipped around by a defender around the two-yard line.

The 'rub'

This breakdown is not the forum for any outright complaints about officiating and enforcing the rules. How a game is called fluctuates from crew to crew, night to night. However games against N.C. State and Miami have provided a trend of sorts that is worth quickly discussing as there is a subtle tactic employed against the Seminole defense.

Known as a 'rub' or a pick, an offense can design routes that prohibit a defender's path to his man in either the flats or in the middle of the football field. In the Wolfpack's case two weeks ago, they liked to employ combo crossing routes which would cause Seminole defensive backs/linebackers to get in each other's way while trying to defend. This freed up drag routes across the middle.

In Miami's case this weekend, the 'Canes used drag routes or slants as a physical screen for a linebacker or DB to work around while trying to get to the outside. These are not traditional and engaged downfield blocks, but instead little "chips" on second-level defenders. Look at these two examples back-to-back below.

Here's what is important to know about these plays: much like a moving screen in basketball, they can be called and enforced as pass interference on the offense. In an offensively-skewed sport, however, they hardly are called and consequently the tactic is used to varying degrees by most teams.

It all depends on the type of officials on the playing surface that day - are they "let them play" type officials or "letter of the law" officials which set the tone early? Again, that's a crew to crew stylistic question. In the case of the last couple of weeks, the officials have decided to let the players play when the "rub" is used.

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